Category Archives: Developing and Facilitating Leadership

Strength-based Coaching: Why Ask: “What areas can be improved?”

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During the past 5 weeks I have been involved in an online connected coaching course via plpnetwork. At this point, this course has given me great learning to reflect upon and to connect with past experience.


Connected Coaching is a combination of strengths from three coaching models:

1. The 5 States of Mind with self reflection and self-efficacy from  Cognitive Coaching by Costa & Garmston

2. Collaborative communities of inquiry from Instructional Coaching by Knight

3. Appreciative Inquiry approach focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses from Evocative Coaching by Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran.  


What has surprised me the most is how the Appreciative Inquiry approach can promote growth solely reflecting from a strength-based perspective.  Since I learned about AI, I am excited about focusing on people’s strengths and, at the same time, feeling confident that it will help them grow personally & professionally in a positive frame of mind. When I think about teachers reflecting on their classroom walk-through data and in PLCs, I don’t ever want them to feel like they are not doing anything right.  There are always many things that they are doing well and I want them to build upon those strengths and be empowered by it. In the past, I viewed coaching as helping people with their weaknesses, not their strengths.  The AI approach has given me a different perspective.  We do not have to focus on areas of improvement when focusing on strengths can move us forward more effectively.


Connected coaching has also helped me to realize the importance of stories. Trust & rapport emerge from educators telling their stories from a positive framework. Confidence & empowerment also start to shine as educators reflect on their practice and effectively move forward. If a negative mindset gets us off track, then the power of stories about what has gone well can bring us back to a positive frame of mind to work within.


Evocative Coaching also describes the importance of brainstorming. The idea of the Wondering Playground from Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. in their book: The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Professional Development: Coaching Inquiry- Oriented Learning Communities also appeals to me because it connects with what I currently believe– play is important.  This framework gives PLCs a structure for “play”.  I think this will also empower teachers to pursue what may be a burning question for them that emerges from their practice.


I’m looking forward to the last few weeks of this course as I hone my skills and learn more from my colleagues.



5 Ways Leaders Can Promote Schoolwide Learning for Restructuring



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“There is so much to learn…we need to be in a continuous learning mode.”       Fullan, 2013

Before taking a look at these the suggestions below, we must always be reminded about relationships, relationships, relationships! These 5 ways are built on a foundation of trust.  Relationships must continuously be nurtured and strengthened. Leaders and teachers must trust themselves in order to trust others. As Costa & Garmston (2002) state: “Self-trust is prerequisite to developing trusting relationships with others.”.  One way this can be developed is posted here and to help decide what balance leaders may need is posted here.

After considering the relationship piece, these 5 ways can help bring about innovation and learning that can translate in improved student learning.

1.Provide many opportunities to learn, explore and experience new knowledge and skills. Time to learn and experiment with colleagues can help change behaviours. Leaders need to plan to spend money for resources and to get creative with scheduling for on-going, embedded collaboration. Learning in community can change attitudes and beliefs that, ultimately, change behaviour and practices. Continued support for teachers along the way such as coaching is essential.

2.  Loose-tight leadership:  Change is messy.  Often we can end up with pockets of innovative teaching and the entire staff is at different places in the journey. To develop consistency in all classrooms, leaders can decide on areas that they are willing to be “loose” on and areas that they need to be “tight”on (Dufour, 1998). For example,  the school’s collectively agreed upon mission/vision must be a “tight” area.  Any decision is based on the question: Does it align with our mission/vision/values & beliefs? The areas that leaders can consider to be “loose” with are areas of discovery and exploration of new pedagogy/resources/tools. Other examples might be “tight” with the guidelines of digital citizenship & “loose” on finding innovative ways to teach it.  Once exploration has been done by the early adopters, then a collective decision can be made as a staff on some common practices/best pedagogy for the school.  This can create effective learning environments for students year after year with common language and effective pedagogy.

3.  Honor where people are at, provide generous support and remove barriers. In this  article by Schlechty (1993), he describes five roles people play in the change process and how they can be supported. He also defines the difference between school improvement and restructuring which is significant for where educational change is at currently and continuing to go.

4.  Develop teacher capacity to create teacher leaders by “making learning personal” (Bray, 2012) not just for students but for teachers too. Change is personal! Leaders can personalize learning by providing training and resources for self-improvement that is meaningful (see first paragraph above) and, by providing high-quality professional development at every staff meeting–directly and indirectly.  Directly meaning on-going PD during a portion of your staff meeting day. Indirectly meaning embedding the learning in everyday things.  For example, if the goal is to help staff learn about a highly effective strategy or tool, then use it in a meaningful way during your meeting. Something as simple as putting the staff meeting agenda in Google Docs and staff using mobile devices to see the agenda to follow the links will go a long way in staff learning.

5. On-going reflective practice that includes individual and school wide reflection. To keep reflection at the forefront, provide opportunity for personal reflection time during staff development time, develop reflection mechanisms for professional learning communities and, implement activities during professional development days to reflect as a whole staff. Promoting reflection at all stages of organizational change will assist in riding through the implementation dip. A great resource for individual and school wide reflective practice is here.

In what other ways can leaders lead successful restructuring?

Why 7Habits?

Recently, I had another school approach me about the 7Habits initiative we have implemented at our school.  Some of the questions asked were “Why 7Habits?” and  “What makes it different from other character education programs?” My response involved going back to what my initial thoughts were when I first stumbled upon The Leader in Me book in Chapters one Saturday afternoon. After reading this book at that time, I knew it was different from programs that were known to me for the following reasons:

1. It Personally Develops All Stakeholders

The training process has a high level of personal reflection.  It’s not a “program” that train staff how to teach the 7Habits.  It’s a process that staff go through to reflect how they are living and can live by these timeless principles to improve relationships and productivity in their personal lives.  It also gives staff tools to deal with difficult situations personally and professionally, and above all, it helps people deal with change.  The biggest challenge that I have as an administrator is helping staff (and myself!) deal with change.  Everyone hates change because it’s uncomfortable. I have read many books about change (thank you Michael Fullan et al.) but it is very difficult to follow through as a whole group.  As a leader, it’s finding a balance between moving the organization forward and not overwhelming people. At that time, I believed that the 7Habits would help people in all areas of their life…not just professionally. The education profession can be very demanding on personal time.  This was one way to “give back” personally and, ultimately, when people are personally happy then it pays back tenfold professionally.  The staff are living the 7Habits and that in turn has made the learning more real and deep for the students and their families. It’s very powerful because staff have ownership


2. It’s Sustainable

Another key feature is that it’s effectively sustainable due to the official and extensive training.  When administrators are trained as trainers then:

  • Whole staff can be officially trained in-house

  • On-going training can happen at every staff meeting to keep it in the forefront

  • New staff can be trained as they are hired

  • Parents and community members can also be trained to develop community  buy-in

Three years later, I’m reflecting upon this decision and I’m happy to report that it has made a difference!  How do I know?

  • Staff are walking the talk

  • Students are internalizing the habits and teaching it to their families

  • Parents report how their children are referring to the habits at home

  • Kids have the skills to lead conflict resolution on their own

  • School council request training

  • Staff have committed to high expectations aligned with our mission/vision and have made huge gains

  • We continue to to connect it to everything we do (i.e. digital citizenship)

It’s still going strong!  As a leader, I hope that it continues well after our team leaves.  That will be the ultimate indicator.

Reflections on Pedagogy, Technology and Change

“When you are engaged with others doing something meaningful, you can accomplish wonders.” (pp. 70). This quote is from a book by Michael Fullan called Stratosphere. From my perspective, this describes our journey at our school.

Our staff often celebrate and reflect what we have accomplished through collaboration. Our lead team (admin, special education facilitator/coach, & instructional/tech coach) also get together to reflect. The number one celebration theme for the past few years continues to be common language amongst staff, students and parents.  It started with the 7Habits language, then it gained momentum with the comprehension/thinking strategies and the gradual release pedagogy and now it’s carrying on with the DAILY 5 structure as well as purposeful technology integration including class blogs, student blogs and BYOD in  K-4 environment. Here is some of our baseline data for pedagogical change throughout the last few years:

  • All staff read The Leader in Me by Stephen R. Covey and were trained in the 7Habits
  • Some school council members read Leader in Me

  • All staff collaborated on developing mission/vision

  • School council educated in 7Habits & digital citizenship

  • All staff read Reading for Meaning by Debbie Miller and some read Strategies that Work by S. Harvey & A. Goudvis to extend their learning

  • All staff in-serviced in and instructing comprehension/thinking strategies from the books indicated above with common language

  • All staff teaching using gradual release of responsibility model to set up instruction for small groups and individuals

  • All staff assessing literacy using the Fountas & Pinnell system

  • All staff educated in and implement our 7Habits of Digital Citizenship

  • All staff have class blogs and some also have student blogs

  • Grade 1-4 classes implement BYOD

  • ¾ staff have been in-serviced in Daily 5 by “The Sisters”

  • All staff moving towards flexible classroom space/environment

  • School has been leveraging social media to:

    • develop professional growth

    • connect classrooms globally

    • engage parents and community

As I finished reading Stratosphere, I realized even more so what an incredible journey- pedagogically & technologically- we are traveling. Fullan states that “Pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge operating in concert will become a powerhouse of learning.” (pp.71).  I believe we are beginning to experience this due to our commitment to common language and framework:

1. Pedagogical change by implementing comprehension/thinking strategies within a gradual release of a responsibility model and flexible classroom environment model.

2. Technology integration by having the opportunity to facilitate our U21C project: Pedagogy First that provided time and support for teachers to collaborate.

3. Change knowledge by purposefully planning, innovating and building capacity: “…leadership and teaching is proactive in the sense of helping other people create a world they didn’t know they wanted.” (pp. 68).

It’s very exciting work!

Makes Me Think…

Photo by Life Inspired Photography

I recently finished the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.  In this book he argues how opportunity and time on task result in success and that it’s not always the “best and the brightest”.  He gives a wide variety of examples from birth dates to lucky breaks.  Here are some of my thoughts in relation to students, staff and  instructional leadership for the 21st century:

1. Gladwell suggests that if your birthday is within 3 months after any sports cut off date, you have a very high chance at getting to “the show” in that sport.  He gave hockey as an example.

This makes me think about our students who have “late” birthdays.  We often forget what a difference a few months can make developmentally.  When we think about infants, a few weeks can be the difference between walking and not walking yet.  We cannot forget this as they get older.  Kids need to know that they might not be ready for some concepts and we cannot let them think that they will never “get it”.  One size does not fit all.

2. Gladwell reveals that studies show how low-income kids start school academically similar to middle – high income kids.  However, the academic gap increases by the time they are in grade 5 due to fewer opportunities during the summer months.

This makes me think how important it is to continue to support students all year.  What can we do to increase awareness and support for these kids?

3.  Gladwell discusses how 10,000 hours of practice is needed to master a skill. It does not depend on natural talent.

This makes me think:  Are we giving our students enough time to practice skills.  For example, we expect our students to be proficient readers but do we give them enough time to practice reading silently or to someone during the school day?  Are we instructing 80% of the time and only giving students 20% of the time to practice when it should be 20% instruction and 80% practice?  What about math?  It takes time and practice to solve problems.  Are we assuming the best students are the ones who can solve problems quickly?  Are we giving others opportunities to solve even if they take longer or prefer different ways to show what they know ?

This also makes me think about the time we give our teachers to master new skills as well.  As leaders, have we created built-in time for teachers to collaborate and master teaching in a 21st century environment?

4.  Gladwell states that opportunities are a huge factor in success.  Bill Gates would not be where he is today if he did not have the opportunity to have unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal to master computer programming when he was 13 years old.

This makes me think:  Are we giving our students opportunities to learn how they want to learn and with the tools that they prefer?  As leaders, have we given opportunities to our staff to master technology integration in the classroom?  Have we created even the smallest opportunities to have procedures such as signing up for a whole school activity using a collaborative web tool instead of circulating a sign up paper at the staff meeting or having 25 copies of the sign up sheet going around via emails?   As leaders, have we neglected opportunities that have been given to us to improve our 21st century skills or have we pushed them aside due to time, fear, beliefs, hoping it will go away,…etc.?

If success = opportunities and time, what opportunities can we continue to create for staff and students?  Check out our school’s journey.

Shift: “How Can We?” to “This Is What We Can Do!”

It is amazing to the see the mind shift of our teachers since starting our IREC Pedagogy First Project in September!  Our plan was :

Year 1

1. Teach the 7Habits of Digital Citizenship that our staff created so the filter can be opened

2. Assist teachers to create a class blog using the Gradual Release of Responsibility model

Year 2

1. Continue with class blogging

2. Invite students to bring their own devices

Well!  Plans are meant to be changed! It’s only January and half our classes are ready to start exploring BYOD!  It’s so exciting that our teachers are “chomping at the bit” to open up the filter and solidify our BYOD policy.  The conversation has shifted to “How can we?” to ” This is what we can do…!”.